Merrimack drops fourth in a row
The opening four minutes of the third quarter during Friday night’s loss to Londonderry may have been the longest of Merrimack coach Dante Laurendi’s season.
While it yielded just 14 points for the visiting Lancers (5-1), that short period of time sprung the visitors loose in what had been a close game for an eventual 51-27 victory in a Division I South conference matchup. LHS senior quarterback Eric Fairweather led the game in every category and it showed during that pivotal 3-minute, 16-second span when the Lancers put together two touchdown drives sparked by an interception, double-reverse flea flicker, onsides kick, and fake punt.
Fairweather was nearly unstoppable. A game-high 128 yards on 14 carries was just part of it as he also picked off a pass and completed nine of his own 21 attempts for 234 yards and three TDs. He also plugged in two scores on the ground, one of which was an 80-yard run in the fourth.
“They have athletes all over the field, and when you have a kid like (Fairweather) who can run it and throw it, he’s a real threat,” Laurendi said. “We blew a couple of assignments and they capitalized on it.”
But despite the 51 points, digging deep into the vault was a theme that the Lancers coaching staff felt it needed all night to rack up 488 total yards of offense on the Merrimack (2-4) defense.
“We really had to reach into the playbook to get some of those points,” Londonderry coach Jimmy Lauzon said. “We weren’t executing what we normally run; I have to go back on the film and see what they were doing to us, but whatever they were doing they had a good game plan.”
The turn of events began as Merrimack came out of the halftime gates with a drive that halted at midfield. Joe Giampietro and Justin Grassini had exchanged two runs each before Fairweather picked off his counterpart and returned it 35 yards to the Merrimack 33.
The Lancers waited one play before running their flea flicker, which ended with Fairweather finding Ryan Herold for the second time on the night in the end zone. This one went for 31 yards when the Tomahawks defense was fooled by a clean, double-reverse before the ball was tossed back to Fairweather.
The Lancers went for the onsides kick next, recovering at the Merrimack 47. A six-play drive, which included a 35-yard fake punt pass to Fairweather from Michael Ryan, ended with a Kyle Byrd 2-yard run and a 37-14 lead.
“When they are that explosive on offense,” Laurendi said, “you have to be able to answer every time and we just couldn’t keep up. That was a pretty bad four minutes. They had momentum and went to put the nail in the coffin.”
Merrimack was also without leading tackler Stephen Gage, was sat out the game for undisclosed reasons.
However, things weren’t as bleak as it seemed for the Tomahawks, who again saw a busy night by Grassini. The sophomore quarterback completed 19 of 38 attempts for 244 yards (three interceptions, one TD pass to Andrew DeGregorio) and orchestrated a 21-play, 7-minute drive in the third quarter to shorten the gap to 37-20.
“I think they out-schemed us on both sides of the ball, to be honest, they had a good game plan on offense,” Lauzon said. “We sustained some of the drives for them with the penalties; that’s definitely something we need to address and fix right away.”
Joe Giampietro (17 carried, 37 yards) capped the drive with a 2-yard plunge before Justin Weiser got the Tomahawks the ball back on the next Lancers possession with a recovery of a Fairweather fumble. This time, Grassini took the Tomahawks to the Lancers 8 before a deflection on a pass to Ian Roberts ended with an interception in the end zone.
One play later, and Fairweather danced up the sideline for an 80-yard score and a 44-21 lead.
“I thought we did do some good things, some things that were very positive,” Laurendi said, “but we have to be able to finish drives.”
Tyler DeNeill and Kyle Talbot both had touchdowns on the ground for Merrimack, which ran for 142 yards on 40 carries. Talbot’s came in the second quarter only after a Lancers 98-yard interception return for a score was called back due to pass interference.
“You know, I thought we were actually playing solid defense early,” Laurendi said, “making them earn stuff and then they hit us with some big plays. That hurt us tonight.”